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Together for Peace

Exhausted Rohingya refugees rest on the shore in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, after crossing by boat through the Bay of Bengal September 10. (CNS photo/Danish Siddiqui, Reuters)

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair,

CCSJ ( & Director, CREDI

On Thursday, September 21, the world will observe the International Day of Peace. The theme for 2017, “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for Allhonours the spirit of TOGETHER, a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes in search of a better life” (UN).

Here in T&T, Ruben Barbado, Protection Officer at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, continues to collaborate with the Living Water Community. We can and must do better to meet the needs of our brothers/sisters who are refugees/asylum seekers from over 21 nationalities in T&T.

Anna Ramdass’ article in the Trinidad Express on August 5, highlights the fact that there is an increase of refugees in Trinidad and Tobago. Barbado stated that: “In 2017, in just the first three months, asylum applications have more than doubled, with some 336 asylum applications being made, with 60 per cent of this figure being men.”

“Barbado said…there are currently 640 refugees, asylum seekers and other persons of concern in T&T … Detainees at the detention centre have complained about the squalid conditions at the centre, with one case of a Chinese national attempting suicide. There is also a case of a detainee who has been impri-soned at the detention centre for five years.

“Barbado said T&T does not have legislation to legally help refugees, but he said a refugee policy adopted in 2014 by the Cabinet envisions the Government providing recognised refugees a permit of stay, work authorisation and access to public assistance.  T&T is signatory to a United Nations 1951 Convention which speaks to affording protection to refugees. The next step is to make this draft policy legislation…

“UNHCR figures at the end of 2016 showing 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide and, of this, some 22.5 million are refugees. He noted ten million are stateless and, of this lot, only a mere 189,300 refugees have been resettled.”

From October 21 – 28, CCSJ will once again observe Justice, Peace and Community Week. The theme this year is: A Catholic perspective on the Development of Peoples. We hope to launch the week with the screening of the feature documentary ‘Warehoused’, which highlights the plight of long-term refugees at Dadaab, Kenya – the world’s largest refugee camp.

Current images on social media of hundreds of Myannmar’s Rohingya minority Muslim community burnt to death in what is clearly “ethnic cleansing” are heartbreaking. UN officials estimate the death toll at more than 1,000 and estimates that the number of refugees who have crossed into Bangladesh has reached more than 270,000 since August 25.

UK’s The Guardian printed Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto political leader, stating, inter alia: “We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness again.”

He has joined “the growing list of voices calling on Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to protect Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority as military-led operations against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.” 

UK Guardian journalist, George Monbiot, is just one of thousands calling for Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of her Nobel Prize, stating: “She has denied the very identity of the people being attacked, asking the US ambassador not to use the term Rohingya…. I doubt she has read the UN human rights report on the treatment of the Rohingyas, released in February. The crimes it revealed were horrific. It documents the mass rape of women and girls, some of whom died as a result of the sexual injuries they suffered. It shows how children and adults had their throats slit in front of their families.

“It reports the summary executions of teachers, elders and community leaders; helicopter gunships randomly spraying villages with gunfire; people shut in their homes and burnt alive; a woman in labour beaten by soldiers, her baby stamped to death as it was born. It details the deliberate destruction of crops and the burning of villages to drive entire populations out of their homes; people trying to flee gunned down in their boats…malnutrition ravages the Rohingya, affecting 80,000 children … Amnesty International published a similar dossier last year.”

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever, peace-prize winner, said recently: “the world is waiting” for Aung San Suu Kyi to act and to condemn the “tragic and shameful” treatment of the Myanmar’s Rohingya people.

Let’s pray and work for peace in our world.